It was nearly three years ago exactly that we were preparing to move our family to New York City. I remember how I felt about leaving our cozy little town chalk full of family and support network. It wasn’t exactly terror, it wasn’t even completely fearful. Anticipation and uncertainty flooded every single pore and molecule of my body, no doubt emanating from me onto my husband and even my children. It is a state of being that I will never visit again, yet I’ve carefully encased those feelings to take on the rest of my journey as a memento of how much I’ve grown.
I’ll never forget google-street-viewing our potential neighborhoods from all the way across the country, perched in our cute, yet modest home surrounded by our sweet and safe little town. My children were babies, so accustomed to seeing their family on a nearly daily basis, walking with me down the clean sidewalks of our neighborhood picking flowers and swimming in the outdoor pool at the local athletic club. It was the picture of a normal suburban life, and I was very content in my security being there with my new and growing family.
We recently arrived back home in Manhattan after spending three weeks in our familiar little bubble-like town, and I was positively itching to get back. I am no longer the person I was when we left. In fact, I can barely identify with that person at all, and while it’s not like I’m ashamed of who I was, I can say with certainty that moving to New York City made me a better parent, and a better person.
This city is riddled with stigmas: People are mean, everyone is in a hurry, the streets are dangerous. Of course, some of that is true but largely-at least where we’re living in the Gramercy area-I haven’t found that to be true at all, relatively speaking. It’s these labels that scared me before we uprooted and left California. In fact, it’s been my experience that the people that live here in Manhattan are much kinder and empathetic than the ever-entitled residents of our hometown in the Bay Area. In an area that sees thousands of people from all walks of life racing to and from different areas of their lives, there is a level of humanity unlike anything I’ve ever been around. Strangers have rushed to fold my stroller while I get into a cab with the kids, a young man once chased me down after noticing that a wad of dollars had fallen out of my pocket, and countless people have helped us through the snow, or into stores, or even crossing the street. Yet it isn’t the help I was needing at the time, it was the feeling that no matter how alone I felt, there was someone there, someone watching. Someone caring.
What ended up changing wasn’t the people around me however, it was the level of trust that I had built into myself. The second I realized that I was in charge of myself and my family everything got easier. The fact that I wasn’t relying on anyone to come to our rescue when we needed dinner on the table and I wasn’t able to get to the grocery store or our student loan check hadn’t come in on time. Somewhere in the early moments of desperation that frequently brought me to tears, I learned that I had everything I needed to survive and care for my family.
These lessons came from living in one of the biggest cities in the world, living without a car, without a job, without an actual income. Raising three children in the teeny corner of a high-rise apartment building with a husband saddled with the stress of succeed-or-perish dental school demands and with very, very few breaks of any kind. We learned to ride the subways and busses with thirty people in our direct personal space at all times, and to grocery shop while piling food on top of the stroller while warning and corraling the kids to stay close to me or else.
My children… Oh how I wish and hope and pray that they retain some of the the life and experiences that we have had, from the very exciting to the ever typical. I hope they remember that they were never discriminate in their kindness to strangers. They smile and say hello to anyone they please, regardless of any facet of that person’s appearance. We’ve all learned patience, endurance and empathy beyond everything else, while waiting for the elevator, or sitting still until the bus or car comes to a halt, or walking to and from wherever we needed to go in extreme temperatures. Above all else, I hope they remember the love that we had for our life here, despite the sometimes scary things that have happened. The times that I ran with Jack to the Emergency Room for his allergies, or when we watched them fish the helicopter out of the East River, when our building was evacuated during the hurricane, or even the story Jack was told about the terrorist attacks on 9/11.
I hope they think of New York City fondly and remember the fun we had every single day, no matter if we were stuck in our apartment during a snow or rain storm or if we were in a theater watching a Broadway show. It hasn’t always been easy living here, but the greatest struggle of our move to Manhattan has taught me so much about adapting, accepting, and appreciating things even in the hardest and best of times.
I remember the day I finally considered myself a New Yorker. It took just over two years to feel like I’d earned my city stripes. And, it was at the very same time that I realized I was becoming the parent I’d hoped I would be, and the person I wanted to be.
I won’t forget. I’m so proud of our journey and so grateful to call this city our home, even if it’s for less than a year longer.